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Ethiopian migrants recollect horrifying experience when 64 colleagues died in metal container

By Staff reporter , Garowe Online

ADDIS ABABA - Two of the 14 survivors of illegal cross-border movement that turned tragic have narrated their horrifying experience throughout the time they were left for dead, in the world's most terrifying incident early this year.

Dejene Degefa and another friend, Muguleta, narrated to Reuters how they suffocated inside a metal container between the border of Malawi and Mozambique, where they had opted to cross over to South Africa.

Locked from outside, the two struggled to be conscious as 64 others succumbed having been deprived of essential Oxygen, forcing them to pass out, as they stared at possible death in the wilderness.

When police finally seized the container on March 24, only 14 people were found alive of the 78 who had traveled from Ethiopia, Africa's fastest-growing economic giant, which has its own fair share of challenges.

“I was beating sides of the container; I was even beating people near me,” said 18-year-old Dejene as quoted by Reuters. “I knew that others are dying, and I felt in my heart that I was dying too.”

Upon rescue, they were taken to a hospital within the Mozambique border where they were held for a fortnight before being repatriated to Ethiopia. They were helped by the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations body that helps migrants worldwide.

Back at home, the two had to wait for another 14 days as part of government regulations for travelers, which requires them to be quarantined due to the raging Coronavirus pandemic. They met their families after that period.

Like many parts of North Africa, the team was moving abroad to seek jobs due to poverty back at home. South Africa is one of the popular destinations for migrants despite frequent xenophobic attacks.

Before crossing over into Mozambique, Dejene said, the team was bundled into a small container for easier crossing, but smugglers lashed out, forcing the desperate group inside.

During that process, many fainted as panic engulfed those alive in the container. Just before their rescue, 64 had already died, leaving only 14, who were also weak and had passed out.

Dejene’s friend Mulugeta, 19, told Reuters how he had helped save the group by beating on the side of the truck when he heard voices at a checkpoint. When the doors spilled open, he carried the unconscious Dejene outside.

“When I opened my eyes ... I saw was a cloudy sky and that is how I knew that I was alive,” Dejene told Reuters.

A fifth-grade drop out from Ethiopia’s southern region, he’d left his village in September 2019 with 3,000 birr [$90] and an identification card. Dejene will never try to go back to South Africa, he said. All he wants is to see his family.

“I would rather beg to feed myself than go back,” he said. “I wish I could hug everyone I know but given the current circumstance, I only can greet them from afar."

Ethiopia is currently undergoing a social-economic and geopolitical revolution following the take over by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed. The reformist PM took over in April 2018 and has since been credited for a massive economic revolution.

But despite that, many Ethiopians still move out en mass due to unequal development across the country, with their popular destinations being South Africa, Kenya, Europe, and the Middle East, reports indicate.


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